YOU AND ME. Paramount Pictures, 1938. Sylvia Sidney, George Raft, Robert Cummings, Barton MacLane, Roscoe Karns, Harry Carey. Director: Fritz Lang.

   “Genuinely odd but likable film.” That’s how Leonard Maltin described Fritz Lang’s decidedly uneven, but eminently watchable, gangster film/romantic comedy mash-up starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney as two former jailbirds turned lovebirds. Both work in a department store run by a man who wants nothing more than to give parolees a second chance at building an upstanding life.

   Sounds typical enough, right?

   The thing is: Maltin’s correct.

   You and Me is nothing if not “genuinely odd.” With an Old World comedic sensibility with more than a dash of Yiddishkeit, an armed standoff in the children’s section of an Art Deco department store, and some captivating dreamlike montage sequences, this relatively obscure crime melodrama didn’t fare well at the box office.

   That’s not surprising, given how much of the movie feels as if it were almost an experimental film, a cult classic before there were cult classics.

   When looked at as a whole, the final product actually seems like a thought experiment in which Lang, either consciously or subconsciously, explored the possibilities of bringing both the aesthetic and thematic elements of German expressionism into the American crime film genre.

   Skillful use of light and shadow to convey meaning (check); a prominent spiral staircase (check); a subterranean meeting of criminals operating according to their own code with camera shots that look straight out of M (check).

   Some scenes, such as when a group of gangsters remember their time in the slammer, work extraordinarily well; others, such as when Sidney’s character instructs a coterie of criminals in basic math to demonstrate why crime (literally) doesn’t pay, fall flat. Yet, it’s difficult not to find some things to genuinely admire in this quirky film, one that surely left most audiences slightly baffled when first released in the late 1930s.